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For gun owners in Valley, no rush to buy arms amid debate – or to vilify them

What Idaho gun owners say about the Florida school shooting and gun rights

After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students were killed, gun owners at Independence Indoor Shooting Range in Meridian talk about gun rights, social responsibility and the 2nd Amendment.
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After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students were killed, gun owners at Independence Indoor Shooting Range in Meridian talk about gun rights, social responsibility and the 2nd Amendment.

Regenia Wilson raised her 9 mm pistol and fired at a target. She got off several rounds before her husband, Bill, approached and gave her a magazine loaded with more bullets. After she finished, he took his turn, shooting with the same caliber handgun.

The Wilsons hadn’t gone shooting at a range together in 10 years, but they were inside the Independence Indoor Shooting Range in Meridian on Friday to prepare for an intermediate shooting-skills course this weekend. They enjoy the activity, but they also want guns for self-defense.

“Why shouldn’t I be allowed to have my gun so I can protect my family?” Regenia Wilson asked. “I’m not going to go out and shoot people. But if someone comes into my house and my family’s there, my granddaughters are there, you’d better have a reason.”

The shooting of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school has turned the nation’s focus once again to the issue of gun control. The shooting is on the minds of Treasure Valley gun owners, and of the owners, employees and customers of gun shops and shooting ranges.

But this is 2018, not 2012. Then Barack Obama was president, and now Donald Trump is. Then, after a shooter killed 20 elementary school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, local sales of guns and ammunition surged as gun owners worried that the president or Congress would curb their right to buy guns. About 3 million more guns than usual were sold nationwide during the five months after the shootings, Newsweek reported.

Now, with a Republican Congress and president, sales appear largely unaffected, at least in the Treasure Valley.

“Things in the past have happened and there’s been a knee-jerk reaction to come in and buy stuff, but that hasn’t happened this time,” said Steve Zimmermann, range operations manager for Independence, which also sells guns and ammo.

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Larry Baumgarten of Eagle practices firing his handgun at Independence Indoor Shooting Range. He said parents should expend greater effort in teaching their kids to be good citizens. “As parents, we have a responsibility to our children,” he said. “I think that’s one of the key things that we should be focusing on.” Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Representatives of Boise Gun Co., Buckhorn Gun and Pawn, and Impact Guns say they have not seen sales increases.

“With a Democratic president in the White House, any threat of potential legislation tends to scare people a little bit,” said Matt Perry, owner of Buckhorn and the husband of Idaho Rep. Christy Perry, a Republican running for Congress to succeed Rep. Raul Labrador in the 1st Congressisonal District. “Unfortunately, that’s what stimulates the firearms business.”

Outside the Independence range, the Wilsons, former Boise residents who now live in McCall, said they were saddened by the Florida killings and disappointed that an armed school resource officer failed to enter the school and pursue Nikolas Cruz, the ex-student accused of committing the massacre.

It’s natural to blame guns, they said.

“We can’t blame guns,” Regenia Wilson said. “Guns aren’t the problem.”

But Bill Wilson said it is time to raise the legal age for owning a gun, because so many mass shootings are committed by young men. Cruz is 19. Adam Lanza, the mentally ill Sandy Hook shooter who then killed his mother and himself, was 20.

“I don’t think anyone should be allowed to buy a gun until they’re 21,” said Wilson, who served in Vietnam. “You can’t drink until you’re 21. So it’s the same thing.”

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Bill and Regenia Wilson, of McCall, agree that it may be time to raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. But they are firm believers in the right to bear firearms. “There is now way we can ban guns in this country,” Bill Wilson said. “It’s a right to own one as long as you’re responsible with it.” Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

That idea is gaining traction among conservatives, even though the National Rifle Association opposes it. On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, proposed raising the minimum age to purchase guns to 21 and to prevent the mentally ill from possessing firearms. President Trump also called for raising the age to 21 and to conduct background checks with a greater emphasis on mental health.

Zimmermann, the range operations manager, said he is torn.

“I understand the principle of that,” he said. “The thing it comes down to is that we trust our 18-year-olds to fight for our country. We give them true weapons of war to go and fight for our freedom, but here in the homeland, where we’re supposed to be safe, we might restrict that right. That kind of frustrates me a little bit.”

Bill Wilson also favors tracking private gun sales, which aren’t covered by laws that require a background check when buying a gun from a dealer.

Eagle resident Larry Baumgarten, who was target shooting at the Independence range with his wife, Karen, said the mass shootings are a consequence of people lacking respect for others.

“That’s the real problem,” he said. “There are lots of guns around, but for the amount of issues that are happening, it’s really a small percentage for the number of weapons out there. Most people are very responsible when it comes to weaponry.”

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Bill and Regenia Wilson, of McCall, check their shooting accuracy on an Idaho-centric target at Independence Indoor Shooting Range. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell

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